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Juneau makes the Big Screen in Alaska film 'Big Miracle'

Posted: February 9, 2012 - 1:00am

Juneau is part of the new movie, “Big Miracle” (Glacier Cinemas), literally, from the first frame.

(Technically, that’s not quite accurate. It isn’t, literally, the first frame. Literally nobody else uses “literally” correctly, though, so I figured I wouldn’t worry about it. “Literally, my heart broke,” I heard a girl say the other day. Really? It did? How are you walking around and breathing then? If your heart literally broke, you would literally be dead.)

Whoa. Deep breath. In… and out. Whew, okay, relaxed.

The Juneau connection doesn’t happen in the first frame. It does, however, happen within the first few seconds of the film. Snow and ice fill the screen first, and then we see a group of Inupiat paddling a boat, tracking a whale. Their stern faces reflect how seriously their people take what they are about to do.

It is among those faces that Juneau’s representation jumps off the screen. A high school classmate and I saw the movie together and we both shouted with excitement when we recognized a fellow Crimson Bear alum: “Ish!” Ishmael Angalook Hope, a name most of Juneau knows by now from his presence on the Juneau arts scene. He plays Bud, according the credits, although I don’t remember there being any hint at that factoid during the movie.

Ish, for Juneauites, is the hometown connection to the screen in a Hollywood major motion picture that is all about Alaska. Undoubtedly, there will be similar hometown stars for other hometowns around the state. Even if you don’t recognize a familiar face on screen, it’s Alaska! Filmed IN Alaska.

This isn’t “The Grey”, out now starring Liam Neeson, where the story takes place in Alaska but they filmed it in Canada (no offense, Canada). Several filming locations are listed for “Big Miracle” but they all have one thing in common: Alaska.

“Big Miracle” (formerly known as “Everybody Loves Whales”) is a “based on a true story” flick with the true story being one that all Alaskans that can remember as far back as the 1980s will recall. It was then that three gray whales became trapped underneath the ice in Northern Alaska. It was then that their story, and the story about the effort to get them to the open sea before they were trapped for good, gained national and international attention. Peter Jennings and Dan Rather were talking about Alaska. President Reagan got involved. The Soviets became good guys during a time when there was still a good deal of paranoia involved when it came to Russia.

Screenwriters Jack Amiel and Michael Begler based their script on Thomas Rose’s book, “Freeing the Whales – How the Media Created the World’s Greatest Non-Event”, and the result is a somewhat formulaic movie that can’t be faulted too much for said formula because it (for the most part) actually happened that way. What the movie lacks (any sort of real character development), it makes up for with Alaska scenery, real footage from the real story, and yes, whales. The cast, too, is loaded.

John Krasinski (“The Office”) plays a TV reporter stationed up in Barrow that stumbles across the trapped whales and the story of his career. His character’s name is Jim Halpert. Nope. Wait, that’s not right. Adam Carlson. That’s his character’s name (but he’s pretty much Jim Halpert). Adam’s ex-girlfriend, Rachel (Drew Barrymore), is a Greenpeace activist and she is very much a one-note character (“Oil is evil, whales are people too!”). Ted Danson plays the big oil tycoon and manages to do it non-ironically, despite how ironic the casting is. Kristen Bell is on hand as a spoiled, big city reporter. Rob Riggle shows up as a Minnesotan with a homemade device that melts ice (not nearly as fun as the role he had in “The Hangover” where he shoots Zach Galifianakis in the face with a Taser). Dermot Mulroney’s around, and I’m leaving out plenty of folks you might recognize.

It’s a star studded cast in a movie where human actors just don’t matter as much as the animals (whales) and the setting (Alaska).

Director Ken Kwapis, who has mostly done TV (“Parks and Recreation”, “The Office”) and rom-coms (“He’s Just Not That Into You”), isn’t able to avoid lame romantic subplots completely, though. Mulroney’s gruff National Guard Colonel and a White House aide (Vinessa Shaw) hit it off, which seems far-fetched except that it actually happened. Krasinski and Barrymore may or may not get back together. Largely, though, Kwapis keeps the focus on what drives the movie and that ain’t the characters or the cast that plays them.

It’s the true-ness of the story. It’s our state front and center. You’ll probably have your own personal connection to something or someone you see. You’ll get more of the jokes and references (hello, Sarah Heath!) than Joe Shmoe in the lower 48.

“Big Miracle” isn’t a flawless movie. But its setting is perfect. Literally.

•••

The boob tube has been dominated in the Carson household of late by a show I’ve written about in each of the last two columns: “Lost” (ABC). We finished season 5 last week and had to talk ourselves out of staying up too late on a work night just to dip immediately into season 6, the show’s last. “Lost” is, in a word, insane. More often than not, it’s insanely good (if you watch them in order). There are worse ways to stay warm when the snowplows go by and bury your car outside than spending roughly 900 hours watching the whole show from start to finish.

Some other quick TV tidbits: I’ve never heard of “Key & Peele” (Comedy Central). A buddy watched the brand new series this week and texted me, “Not good, really not good.” No good, huh? I asked back. He replied, “They.” Auto-correct strikes again. What you should absolutely watch is the show “Key & Peele” follows on Comedy Central: “Tosh.0”. Daniel Tosh, frankly, is freaking funny. Off color? Occasionally-or-maybe-often offensive? Yes and yes. More importantly, “Tosh.0” is a rare half hour of television that will make you laugh so hard your stomach will hurt. Literally.

“30 Rock” (NBC) is back and even I, the most loyal of “The Office” defenders, have to admit it’s a far superior comedy. Alec Baldwin can delay as many flights as he wants to with his Words With Friends obsession – as long as he continues to provide laughs every Thursday as Jack Donaghy.

Finally, let me pitch a TV show concept to you: We’ll take some dude, unmarried, and put him in a tux. Then, we’ll round up a bunch of attractive females and put them in a house together (essentially captivity). This unmarried dude will then get to “date” all of these women, sometimes all at once. There will be little contests where the girls, for example, play softball against each other and the winning team will get one of these “dates” with the dude. Maybe there are special individual, one-on-one dates that can be periodically won by a single girl. Hopefully, there’s backstabbing, tears, plenty of PDA. Each week, the dude will kick one of these women out of captivity and, for some reason, she’ll be heartbroken (figuratively speaking). It’ll end with the dude picking one girl as the one he’ll marry (or not), because THAT is how you go about finding true love. Am I right?

What? Excuse me? I’m a sexist pig? That’s a creepy premise for a show? Agreed.

“The Bachelor” airs Mondays on ABC.

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